1731-1780. He was the son of the Reverend William Edwards of Nanhoran, North Wales, and of his wife Frances Williams.
Edwards joined the Navy at Deptford in December 1745 as a cabin servant aboard the new Chesterfield 44, Captain William Gordon, and he enjoyed further employment with that officer aboard the Assistance 50 from November 1747, which ship was initially fitted out at Chatham but following a six month cruise came into Spithead in August 1748 having lost so many men through sickness that she was ordered around to Chatham to be paid off in October..
In January 1749 he joined the new Sphinx 24, Captain William Lloyd, at Sheerness, going out to Nova Scotia that summer and remaining with her until May of the following year. After a period in the merchant marine he passed his lieutenant’s examination on 19 June 1752.
Edwards was commissioned lieutenant on 26 February 1755, and he joined the Ramillies 90, Captain Francis Holburne, at Portsmouth before transferring with that officer, promoted rear-admiral in May, to the Terrible 74, Captain William Holburne. This vessel formed part of the force under Holburne’s command that was sent out to reinforce Vice-Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen off Louisbourg shortly afterwards, and she also sailed for North America with a small squadron escorting troop transports in April 1756. During September of the latter year Edwards was appointed first lieutenant of the Tartar 28, Captain John Lockhart Ross, and he saw much action in the Channel aboard that new and successful cruiser.
Promoted commander on 16 November 1757, he immediately commissioned the new Favorite 14 in which he escorted a convoy to Gibraltar from Portsmouth in May 1758, and in which two months later he assisted the St Albans 60, Captain James Baker, in the capture of the French frigate Loire 36, bound from Toulon to Quebec with stores.
For the first few months of 1759 the Favorite cruised off Cadiz where she took a valuable snow from San Domingo on 14 April when in company with the Thetis 44, Captain John Moutray. On the next day both ships set of in chase of two strange sail before parting, but later that evening the Favorite was approached by another stranger which would prove to be the superior Velour 24 from Saint Domingue, carrying twenty 9-pounder cannon as opposed to Edwards’ own sixteen 6-pounders, and which unleashed a broadside at him before passing on. The Favorite set off in chase and nine hours later brought the French vessel to a fifteen minute action before she broke away. The weather being calm, Edwards’ men took to the sweeps and eventually hauled in the Velour. After a furious engagement of two and a half hours the Frenchman struck, having received over fifty broadsides and sustained casualties of thirteen men killed and nine wounded in return for British losses of seven men wounded, four of those badly. The prize was carried into Gibraltar.
Remaining briefly with the Favorite, Edwards was present at the Battle of Lagos Bay on 18 August 1759, by which time he had already been posted captain of the Valeur with effect from 5 August by the commander-in-chief, Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen. This promotion was confirmed by the Admiralty on 19 February 1760. In the meantime, during November 1759, the Valeur was officially commissioned as a 28-gun frigate at Gibraltar, and after taking her to sea Edwards captured the French privateer Heureux Retour out of Marseilles on 5 July 1760. In January 1761 he undertook a successful mission to the Dey of Algiers to seek recompense for a piracy committed off Cape Finisterre against the British vessel Mary, bound from Lancaster to the coast of Guinea.
In the late spring of 1761 Edwards exchanged with Captain Robert Lambert of the Wager 20 at Gibraltar, going round with a convoy to Lisbon and then to Spithead in June. On arrival he informed the Admiralty of his mission to Algiers and sought instruction on how to dispose of the money and arms that he had recovered. A less savoury cargo was that of fifty convicts who had been bound for America in a vessel that had been captured by a French privateer and then retaken by the Wager, and which Edwards despatched to London in two wagons. In September the Wager set off from Portsmouth for Cork, and after returning to Portsmouth she entered dock from where she came out at the end of December. She then escorted a convoy around to Plymouth, and on 2 February 1762 put out of the Devonshire port with victuallers for the fleet in the Basque Roads.
In May 1762 Edwards commissioned the new frigate Emerald 32, which vessel was still fitting out in the Humber in October, and he remained with her until she was paid off at Chatham in March 1763, whereupon he retired ashore for the next fourteen and a half years to develop his inherited Welsh estate.
In October 1777 he kissed the King’s hand on being appointed to the new Europa 64 at Portsmouth, and he retained her command until January of the following year, during which month she was renamed the Europe. Transferring to the Cornwall 74, he formed part of Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron’s fleet which left England on 9 June 1778, and his was the first of that bedraggled force to reach New York, joining Vice-Admiral Lord Howe on 30 July with three hundred men on the sick list. She subsequently took part in the actions with the French fleet off Rhode Island in August, and at that time was the largest ship available to Howe.
Sailing for the Leeward Islands later that year with Byron, the Cornwall fought at the Battle of Grenada on 6 July 1779, suffering casualties of sixteen men killed and twenty-seven wounded. The ship was one of three that were badly out of position at the start of the action and could well have been captured if the French had shown a little more enthusiasm. Thereafter Edwards commanded a small squadron that cruised off Martinique, and which captured the French frigate Alcmene 30 on 24 October.
Continuing with the Leeward Islands fleet under the new commander-in-chief, Admiral Sir George Rodney, the Cornwall fought at the Battle of Martinique on 17 April 1780 where she incurred the heaviest casualties in the fleet, losing twenty-one men killed and forty-nine wounded. Even so, the fact that she was late into the action did not please the pernickety admiral. The ship was repaired at sea, and continuing in the Leeward Islands campaign she fought in the fleet skirmishes during May, losing another seven men killed and fifteen wounded. By now the Cornwall was in a very poor condition and Edwards left her shortly afterwards to return home. She was finally scuttled at St. Lucia on 5 October as she was deemed to be ‘unserviceable’.
In the meantime, on 12 July 1780, the sickly Edwards had died on the voyage to England aboard the Actaeon 44, Captain Robert Keeler. His widow later erected a monument to his memory at Llangian Church in North Wales.
Edwards married the heiress Catherine Browning of Pullox Hill, Bedfordshire, and had issue two sons and three daughters. His younger son, John Browning Edwards, entered the Navy and rose to the rank of captain. Edwards inherited the Welsh estate of Nanhoran near Pwlheli in modern day Gwynedd where he spent a good deal of time and money improving the house and gardens, taking a great deal of personal interest in the trees and flora. It had been planned that on his return from the West Indies he would enter the Houses of Parliament as the M.P for Aylesbury.
He was known by his men as ‘Old Hammer and Nails’ for his propensity to nail his colours to the mast prior to going into action, and he was regarded as brave if somewhat eccentric. On one occasion, having been struck down motionless on deck and taken for dead, he astonished his men by suddenly leaping to his feet and extolling them to fight on. A well-read and full-hearted man, he had a disdainful opinion of the French, labelling them ‘cowards and poltroons’.
At the time of Edwards’ death the newspapers reported an anecdote to the effect that in the Seven Years War he had been commanding a 20-gun ship on the Jamaican station, and off Hispaniola had come upon a two-decked Spanish ship mounting twenty-five cannon on one side. Somehow surmising that she might not have had any cannon on the other side he had apparently sailed around to find that this was astonishingly the case, and that she was in fact armed en-flute. After engaging and capturing her he had then carried her off to Jamaica. Unfortunately, although the tale chimes with Edwards’ maverick character it does not appear that he had ever commanded a 20-gun vessel in the West Indies during the Seven Years War.